On this day in 1872, the women’s right activist Emily Davison was born. Over the last year and a half, I’ve highlighted a lot of important figures in the women’s suffrage movement. But Divison is one of my very favorites because she was militant. In fact, she was killed at the age of 40 in a political act, although given the circumstances, no one is exactly sure what it was her intention to do.
After high school, she received a scholarship to Royal Holloway College. But in her second year, she was forced to drop out because of financial problems with her family following her father’s death. She then became a governess and eventually a teacher, through which she was able to say money to eventually earn a degree from St Hugh’s College, Oxford.
In 1906, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) — a militant feminist group started by probably the most important suffragette of the twentieth century, Emmeline Pankhurst. Two years later, she quit her teaching position to dedicate herself to political activities. Today, she would be called a terrorist. She went well outside the bounds of the WSPU. She was responsible for violence and arson. This resulted in her jailing on nine different occasions where she staged numerous hunger strikes.
But she also came up with extremely clever forms of protest. For example, on the night of 1911 census, she hid in a cupboard at the Palace of Westminster. This allowed her to claim on the census form that her residence was the House of Commons. According to Wikipedia, “The 1911 census documents that were uncovered state that Emily Wilding Davison was found ‘hiding in the crypt’ in the Houses of Parliament. In 1999 a plaque to commemorate the event was set in place by Tony Benn MP.”
Given her death is unclear, let’s just say that she was trampled by a horse. But she became a martyr to the cause of women’s rights. As a direct result of her death, there was a great increase in male support for suffrage. Women over the age of 30 got the right to vote five years later. And ten years after that, women over the age of 21 were finally allowed to vote.
Happy birthday Emily Davison!